Marcus Stead

Journalist Marcus Stead

Archive for October 2019

Twenty Minute Topic Episode 19: Brexit – The Farce Continues

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Brexit mapBoris Johnson has been granted the Brexit extension he didn’t want, and Jeremy Corbyn turned down the chance to trigger the general election he’s been calling for all year. But come Tuesday evening, we could be in election mode!

Marcus Stead and Greg Lance-Watkins try to make sense of it all, and address issues that were raised during Monday’s debate in Parliament: Should 16-year-olds be allowed to vote? Should university students be allowed to vote in the city where they’re studying, even though they only live in the area part-time and are likely to leave once they graduate? And should the Brexit Party enter into electoral pacts with pro-Brexit candidates in an upcoming election?

All our podcasts are available via the Talk Podcasts website, on iTunes, Google Podcasts, Spotify and the TuneIn App.

 

Written by Marcus Stead

October 29, 2019 at 2:01 am

What’s the point of S4C?

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OPINION/COMMENT PIECE

By MARCUS STEAD

YOU’RE probably familiar with this exchange from Lady Windermere’s Fan by Oscar Wilde: 

CECIL GRAHAM: What is a cynic?
LORD DARLINGTON: A man who knows the price of everything, and the value of nothing.
CECIL GRAHAM: And a sentimentalist, my dear Darlington, is a man who sees an absurd value in everything and doesn’t know the market price of any single thing.

Public subsidies are always a contentious issue. To what extent should taxpayers’ money be used to subsidise commercially-unviable types of theatre? Or what about niche art galleries? Or should taxpayers be expected to fund equipment, coaching and travel costs for talented young sportspeople?

I am reminded of a sitting of Parliament’s Culture, Media and Sport select committee in 2014, when Philip Davies MP revealed figures that showed opera was getting £347.4 million during the life of the 2010-15 Parliament, compared to just £1.8 million for brass bands.

Mr Davies argued with some justification that opera was beloved by ‘middle-class luvvies’. Certainly, I’m inclined to agree with him that opera is very often the height of daft pretension, and that the disparity between opera and brass band subsidies has no basis in logic, reason or popularity.

Broadcasting subsidies are often more contentious. The funding models of the BBC (the licence fee) and Channel 4 (a public trust) mean that neither organisation has to chase ‘profit at all cost’. In their different ways, they both have a ‘public service’ remit.

But what is ‘public service broadcasting’? It’s not easy to define, but you know it when you see it. If a programme has a small audience, it does not make it a bad programme. Nor do high ratings for downmarket trash mean a programme has a high cultural or educational value.

There are grey areas in all these matters. But the evidence suggests that Welsh language broadcaster S4C falls firmly into Cecil Graham’s ‘sentimentalist’ category.

William Whitelaw, former Home Secretary

Shortly after the Conservatives won the 1979 election, the new Home Secretary William Whitelaw announced there was to be a new, UK-wide fourth channel, but, except for occasional opt-outs, the service in Wales was to be the same as for the rest of the UK.

The following year, the then-President of Plaid Cymru, Gwynfor Evans, threatened to go on hunger strike unless the Government climbed down and created a Welsh-language TV channel.

Evans ultimately got his way, and a Welsh language TV channel was to be created, ‘instead of’, rather than ‘as well as’ Channel 4 in Wales in November 1982. Many people viewed the prospect of S4C as a mixed blessing. On the one hand, all Welsh language programming on BBC Wales and HTV Wales would be transferred to S4C, so viewers across Wales would be able to enjoy popular English language programmes at the same time as the rest of the UK. But on the other hand, S4C would was committed to broadcasting a near-entirely Welsh schedule during prime time, and for large portions of the daytime. Popular Channel 4 programmes such as Brookside were relegated to off-peak slots, while the flagship 7pm Channel 4 News programme was not shown on S4C at all.

Areas of Wales that were unable to pick up Channel 4 from English transmitters had to go without until the advent of digital television, when the channel became available throughout Wales, and around the time digital switchover was completed, S4C became a Welsh language-only channel.

Mike Flynn, former BBC Radio Wales presenter

Journalist and broadcaster Mike Flynn had a daily show on BBC Radio Wales from its launch in 1978 until 1989. He points out that S4C’s viewing figures were pretty lousy even in the days of four-channel TV. He said: “It was always a jobs-for-the-boyos channel. There was lots of money being given to independent production companies run by veteran Welsh language campaigners from the 1970s who produced programmes that no-one watched.

“Going back to the year after launch the joke at BBC in Llandaff was that most of the programmes would have been cheaper to mail out on video!” 

Until recently, S4C received an annual grant of £100 million from the UK Government. It is currently going through a period of transition, and by 2022/23, it will receive £80 million, not from the Government, but from the licence fee pot. In other words, cuts will have to be made in the BBC’s budget to fund S4C.

In the current financial year, S4C will receive approximately £81.3 million, of which around £6.8 million comes from the UK Government and £74.5 million from the licence fee pot.

Each Monday, BARB, the body that measures TV viewing figures, releases the top 15 most-watched programmes for the last-but-one week. Every once in a while, I take a screenshot of S4C’s most-watched programmes and post them on my Twitter feed. The findings are pretty consistent.

In a typical week, live sport will get more than 30,000 viewers, especially if it is unavailable elsewhere on free-to-air TV. That suggests people are watching S4C because they want to watch the sporting event, and not because they wish to watch it in the Welsh language.

For example, Wales’s recent match against Australia in the Rugby World Cup was available for free in English, on ITV, and in Welsh on S4C. The Wales-only viewing figures showed that 766,000 watched on ITV and 38,381 on S4C. In other words, 19 out of 20 people inside Wales chose to watch the coverage in English.

Beyond sport, in a typical week in 2019, the only S4C programmes that get more than 30,000 viewers are episodes of Canadian children’s animation Paw Patrol dubbed into Welsh, long-running soap opera Pobol y Cwm (which is far older than S4C itself) on a good week, and not much else.

The 15th most popular programme (the lowest rated publicly available on the BARB website) very often has well below 20,000 viewers.

So S4C costs the public purse a fortune, and for what purpose? Can programmes made in a language well below 20% of the people of Wales speak fluently be considered ‘public service’? The viewing figures demonstrate that below 1% of the people of Wales are watching it at any one time.

Besides, the evidence suggests very few Welsh speakers actually watch the channel on a regular basis. I am informed from a source in North Wales that the dialect heard on S4C programmes bears little resemblance to the version of the Welsh language spoken in her community.

We’ve established that S4C is very heavily subsidised and has virtually no audience, so why does it exist? Mike Flynn offers a clue: “Anyone who was connected got on the gravy train when S4C was launched. The ability to speak Welsh was a passport to public money.” 

In other words, the main beneficiaries of S4C were staff and independent production companies run by the Welsh-speaking, well-connected, nepotistic Crachach classes, who have huge influence in the upper echelons of the Welsh arts, media, civil service and higher education sectors.

I have stated before that the journey from Glantaf School to the BBC Wales building in Llandaff is a short one, both physically and metaphorically. During my time at BBC Wales, I encountered people who wouldn’t even say hello unless you were a Welsh speaker, and plenty more who thought it was acceptable to switch from English to Welsh during production meetings, despite knowing full-well that non-Welsh speakers were present. Needless to say, BBC Wales does very nicely from production contracts with S4C.

Ex-BBC Wales journalist Phil Parry has repeatedly outlined the cosy relationship that exists between BBC Wales and Welsh nationalist party Plaid Cymru. The political classes know that S4C is a political ‘hot potato’. Threaten to withdraw its funding completely, or drastically scale it back, and they’ll face accusations of being ‘anti-Welsh’ from those who benefit from the subsidies, namely the people who work for it. 

And there lies the problem. The main purposes of S4C seem to be to appease the Crachach, and to keep those who work for it in employment. One thing’s for sure – they don’t like people disrupting their cosy little taxpayer-funded clique.

Steve Tucker, a witty, acerbic and much-missed writer

The late and much-missed journalist Steve Tucker wrote a clever expose of S4C in 2010, in which he said:  “You’re more likely, to be frank, to find out the inner workings of North Korea’s ultra-secretive government than fathom what’s going on in the higher echelons of the Welsh-language channel. Like North Korea, S4C keeps its internal workings to itself.

“Like the shady Asian nation, S4C doesn’t like to be disturbed by outsiders. As long as it continues to receive its £101m a year, others can keep their noses out. It doesn’t like to be disturbed by such minor fripperies as, say, whether anyone’s watching or if the programmes are any good. And, like North Korea, regardless of the economic situation, its elite continues to enjoy the good life, with sky-high salaries and gold-plated expense accounts.”

“…Even the most died-in-the-wool nationalist S4C staff themselves are among the first to admit that the channel, awash with cash for so long, has gone about spending it with all the hard-nosed financial sense of Richard Prior in Brewster’s Millions (ask your dad, kids).”

S4C viewing figures for week ending 13 October 2019

I know from my own experiences of dealing with the cabal that they don’t like being challenged. On Tuesday afternoon, I posted the most recent S4C viewing figures for week ending 13 October on my Twitter wall.

Shortly after I posted this, one of my Twitter followers alerted two individuals of my post and invited them to comment. One was Paul Leyshon, who describes himself in his Twitter handle as a ‘Television producer – director’, though he does so in Welsh first and English underneath, which offers rather a big clue as to his background and mindset.

 

 

Paul Leyshon 1In response to the invitation to comment on the S4C viewing figures, Leyshon wrote: “My thoughts dont [sic] give any publicity to that bulb headed racist. Small little man who has an axe to grind with the Welsh language. I make network telly so not my field.”

Leyshon’s response is all too typical of the type of correspondence I have become used to from the Welsh language media establishment. I present them with facts (consistently appalling viewing figures on S4C) and reasoned argument, and they respond with childish ‘school playground’ insults (‘bulb headed’) and throw around wild, baseless accusations (‘racist’).

It’s difficult to know whether these people either don’t have much in the way of real education, operate in a bubble where different standards of debate and discourse are the norm, or are simply not used to having their cosy consensus challenged and have no idea how to respond when somebody questions them.

I responded calmly, to Leyshon’s tweet by saying: “This is exactly the sort of response I’m used to getting from the likes of him. He has no rational arguments whatsoever so resorts to babyish ‘school playground’ abuse. It’s typical of the behaviour I’ve encountered from the Welsh language media classes.”

Leyshon responded by tweeting: “I’m respected in the media. You are not. And i’m not part of the so called Welsh ‘clique’ that is usually the target of your insecure tantrums. In life you have winners and whiners. You are the latter. A stuck little record that feels he has the World against him.”

In my final tweet to him, I replied: “I am respected by those who work with me and am certainly not answerable to you. I note from your website that you have an extensive track record working for S4C over many [years] so you’re not being honest, which is hardly surprising. Goodbye.”

Indeed, one look at Leyshon’s own personal website reveals that he had an extensive relationship with S4C, beginning in 2000 and ending as recently as May 2018. Over that period, Leyshon’s website says that he worked on 49 different series for the channel.

Nowadays, Leyshon appears to work primarily on BBC daytime productions including Bargain Hunt and Celebrity Antiques Roadtrip, but it’s fair to say that, based on what’s on his own website, he had a lengthy relationship with the Welsh-language broadcaster.

Leyshon’s abusive and childish behaviour brings shame on him, the cause he supports (Welsh language broadcasting) and his profession. He was invited to respond rationally to my tweet. He did not do so. I have yet to meet a defender of S4C who can put a polite and rational argument for such huge subsidies for programmes which often have minuscule viewing figures.

A lot could be done with £80 million per year – libraries, leisure centres and community facilities that have been closed in the name of austerity could be kept open. Even if the money were to remain in the Welsh media, it could be used to create a ‘national channel for Wales’, showing programmes mainly in the primarily language of Wales, which is English – current affairs, drama, comedy, sport made in Wales for a Welsh audience, but that could be enjoyed by people around the UK.

Or perhaps that £80 million could be better served by staying in the BBC licence fee pot, to boost under-funded areas of the corporation, including its current affairs, long-form investigative journalism and radio networks (overnight programming on BBC Radio 2 immediately springs to mind).

Either way, there is a growing urgency to bring the issue of S4C’s future to prominence. I have yet to hear an economic or moral case for its continuation in its current form. It is up to its supporters, not me, to make the case. But first, it appears they could do with learning some manners.

Written by Marcus Stead

October 23, 2019 at 2:24 am

Posted in Comment, Opinion

Twenty Minute Topic Episode 18: The Brexit Betrayal

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By MARCUS STEAD

 

Brexit mapThe Brexit 17.4 million people voted for in June 2016 has still not been delivered. On Saturday, the House of Commons put yet more obstacles in the way of the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union.

Marcus Stead and Greg Lance-Watkins take stock of the situation. Have we now reached the stage where it’s ‘Parliament versus the people’?

The podcast is also available on the Talk Podcasts website, iTunes, Google Podcasts, Spotify and the TuneIn app.

Written by Marcus Stead

October 22, 2019 at 3:18 am

Twenty Minute Topic Episode 17: Brexit – Are we nearly there yet?

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By MARCUS STEAD

Brexit map

At the start of what is certain to be one of the most dramatic weeks in British political history, Marcus Stead and Greg Lance-Watkins take stock of the situation as it currently stands.

Marcus and Greg both believe that it is likely that the United Kingdom will leave the European Union at the end of October.

They argue that an extension to Article 50 will force Labour to back a general election, which would be fraught with risk, and could well result in a sizeable majority for Boris Johnson’s Conservatives, which would in turn give him a strong mandate to pull the UK out of the EU, with or without a deal.

The podcast is also available on the Talk Podcasts website, iTunes, Google Podcasts, Spotify and the TuneIn app.

Written by Marcus Stead

October 13, 2019 at 2:29 am

Radio Sputnik Interview: Brexit and the Benn Act

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By MARCUS STEAD

On Monday, I gave an interview to Radio Sputnik where I discussed the Benn Act, the likelihood of a new Brexit deal, the possibility of leaving the EU without a deal, and the chances of a general election this side of Christmas.

You can listen to the interview by clicking below:

Written by Marcus Stead

October 8, 2019 at 3:01 am

Posted in Comment, Opinion, Politics

Twenty Minute Topic Episode 16: The Royal Family

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By MARCUS STEAD

 

Queen 2

Queen Elizabeth II

Marcus Stead and Greg Lance-Watkins discuss the future of the Royal Family.

Will Britain still have a Royal Family in 20 years’ time? How has the recent behaviour of Harry and Meghan undermined the institution? And what do we make of the Queen being dragged into the Brexit process?

All podcasts are also available via iTunes, Google Podcasts, Spotify and the TuneIn app.

Written by Marcus Stead

October 6, 2019 at 3:12 am

Jonathan Davies and Nigel Owens in Japanese race row

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By MARCUS STEAD

RUGBY legend Jonathan Davies has been embroiled in controversy after Japanese racial stereotypes were used in a poster to promote a new series of his Welsh language chat show.

Davies, 56, is widely-regarded as one of the greatest players of his generation in both codes of the game. He made his Wales rugby union debut in 1985 and made the big-money move to rugby league side Widnes in 1989, before returning to union in 1995.

After retiring from playing in 1997, Davies became a prominent BBC commentator in both codes, and since 2004 he has hosted the rugby-themed chat show Jonathan on Welsh language channel S4C, alongside international referee Nigel Owens, also a prominent gay rights campaigner.

Jonathan Davies 9

The poster S4C used to promote the new series of Jonathan contains images of Japanese stereotypes

A cartoon poster to promote the new series on S4C’s social media feed was created which characterises Davies with stereotypical Japanese eyes, while Owens is depicted wearing a kimono.

Owens, 48, is currently in Japan refereeing at the World Cup for the final time before retiring. In 2014 he revealed he seriously considered quitting after suffering racist and homophobic abuse at Twickenham.

Their female co-host, Sarra Elgan Easterby, daughter of former Wales international Elgan Rees, is depicted in Japanese anime sitting on a pagoda with sexual connotations.

The poster was accompanied by a video on S4C’s social media feeds that has since been deleted mocking how difficult the Japanese language is to learn, to the soundtrack of 1980s hit ‘Turning Japanese’ by The Vapors.

jonathan-davies-11-e1570203354771.pngThe illustration, which was drawn by Siôn Tomos Owen, has been widely-condemned on social media. Writer and broadcaster Gav Murphy tweeted: “I’ve tweeted a few times about just some of the amazing things Japan has done to welcome Welsh culture for the Rugby World Cup. Here’s what Wales’ most popular rugby show has been up to C’mon @S4C, we’re better than this.”

Jonathan Davies, known colloquially as ‘Jiffy’, defended the promotional material in his reply to Murphy, saying: “Not agreeing with you. So easy to have a pop.”

Murphy later tweeted: “I keep going back to it n finding even more disgusting things in it. Madness.”

Another media professional Dave Jewitt tweeted simply: “Yikes, Grim”, while Nova Jenad wrote: “It’s like a racist Spot The Difference.”

The series, which is made by Avanti Media, is filmed at S4C’s base at Yr Egin, Carmarthen, and last week’s episode featured guests including One Show presenter Alex Jones and celebrity chef Bryn Williams.

Mike Flynn 1

Mike Flynn

Broadcaster Mike Flynn, 67, who hosted a daily show on BBC Radio Wales between 1978-89, and now spends part of each year living in Asia said: “For me the poster displays the ignorance of those who do not know Asia.

“The kimono was a part of historic national dress in Japan decades ago but these days it often has other connotations. The obligatory woman in the slit dress also accompanies such ignorance.

“As for Jiffy and Owens, Japanese men would never dress like that.

“I wonder how S4C would welcome blacked up miners with slag heaps and colliery headgear alongside their women wearing shawls and stove pipe hats depicting the Welsh on Japanese TV?”

“All in all, it’s a view of Japan from the west from someone who has never been there –
I suspect someone at S4C has just asked for a cartoon of Japan that sums up their ignorance of the country.”

Written by Marcus Stead

October 4, 2019 at 4:38 pm

Posted in Review, Sport